CAA: Subdued Christmas in Guwahati due to deaths

CAA: Subdued Christmas in Guwahati due to deaths

Senior citizens display placards during a protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, at Latashil Playground in Guwahati

For the Stafford family of Guwahati, the Christmas this year would not be an occasion for merriment but a time for grief, as it lost one of its young members during the ongoing protests in the city against the amended citizenship law.

Seventeen-year-old Sam Stafford, a high school student and passionate drummer, was killed in firing by security forces in the Namghar area, a few kilometres away from his home in Hatigaon, on December 12 evening when the city saw massive protests amid a curfew.

"He wanted a big gift for Christmas. He would never ask daddy as he felt shy about it, and always put his request to me. But, instead of treating my brother and celebrating Christmas with him, I will be offering flowers on his portrait," Sam's grieving sister Mousumi Begum said.

Besides, Sam, another youth Dipanjal Das of Chaygaon area, and two other persons from the city succumbed to bullet injuries suffered during separate incidents of firing by security forces during the anti-CAA protests in Guwahati.

But, it's not just the families of the deceased who are feeling sorrowful this Christmas season, but locals too have joined in expressing their grief, compounded by the ongoing agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

In Hatigaon, hardly any market has put up decoration for Christmas very prominently, and a beautiful bakery near Hatigaon Chariali has chosen to just put a red star outside the bistro and a very subdued season's decoration inside.

"Sam was a young chap and played drums, and his is a family of musicians, as both his father and uncle play instruments. We are also pained by his death and tried to keep decoration to minimum for Christmas," said the owner of the bakery and confectionery bistro, who did not wish to be named.

At sweet shops and department stores and pharmacies, a few have mounted a mini sign that says 'Merry Christmas' or a little 'Santa Clause' dangles on door handles, signalling arrival of the holiday season.

At main city market in Goneshguri, a few stores are selling the signature red Santa caps, Christmas trees and winter wear.

Even old churches like Dispur Baptist Church built in 1890, and Little Flower High School in Hatigaon, did not wear prominent decoration. The school near Sam's home has just lit up in light blue, the alcove carrying the statue of Jesus Christ, topped with a white cross, as he blesses people with his open palm.

Shubhankar Saha, owner of 40-year-old Shree Ram Store opened by his father, hurriedly packs off Christmas trees and other festive gears by 8 pm, as hardly any customer are coming to his shop.

"Every year, our city would be bustling with joy and vibrancy during this time. My shop is very old and people would come to our store for Christmas trees, Santa Claus caps, decorative items and other items. 

"This time, amid the anti-CAA agitation, even we don't feel very good. Plus people lived under curfew for so many days. So, Christmas will be dry and subdued this year, the mood is not festive," Saha told PTI.

Many restaurants have chosen to put up just a Christmas tree at the main lobby of the entrance to greet the guests, but no decoration inside.

One such restaurant is 'Parampara', a well-known eating joint known for serving traditional Assamese platter, housed in Paradise Hotel on the busy Mani Ram Dewan Road.

"Our restaurant would on regular days and during festive seasons would be filled with guests. Though curfew got lifted on Tuesday morning, people are not venturing out much for leisure after dark," a staffer at the restaurant said.

Only three to four tables were seen occupied in its spacious hall on weekend around 9 pm.

The mood is similar at Cafe Craft, a bistro located near the building of the oldest English daily of Northeast, The Assam Tribune.

A small star was hung in the cafe's balcony and dimmed lights symbolised the low spirit of Guwahati for any celebrations at the moment.

A memorial service was held by All Assam Students' Union (AASU) at Hatigaon Hugh School here on Sunday in memory of Sam Stafford, where family, friends and locals joined in.

Sam had also formed a band with his friends and used to perform at functions. He was known as "neighbourhood's budding musician".

At various protests held here over the last several days, people sometimes could be seen carrying placards bearing the image of Sam Stafford, who as his family recalled, loved Christmas season.

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